Contract Cheating – Celebrating 15 Years? Feature Presentation Slides

Wednesday October 20 2021 marked the Sixth International Day of Action against Contract Cheating. The online activities were slightly scaled back compared to 2020, but I was delighted to deliver the opening address before joining a panel discussing contract cheating on an international level.

I used the opportunity to discuss how it was 15 years since Robert Clarke and I published our first paper on contract cheating and to ask how the sector was adapting to this.

You can see the slides I used below (and also on my SlideShare account).

The video of the presentation and the accompanying panel is also available on YouTube.

In the presentation I discussed both the positive changes happening in the sector around contract cheating, but I also offered a warning about emerging developments which the sector should be aware of (I also wrote more about contract cheating challenges on LinkedIn here).

My view is that generally things are moving in the right direction, but if left unchecked the new challenges will just move into the place of the old ones. This is one of those areas where the educational community really has to be proactive.

Contract Cheating – Addressing The Business School Challenge

There are specific challenges for Business Schools looking to identify and address contract cheating. From my previous research, I’ve seen particular demand for students to have assignments produced for them in business related subjects, including finance, marketing and management. I’ve also seen wide availability of writers claiming to be qualified or specialised in these areas.

I gave a remote presentation for staff at the Birmingham Business School (part of the University of Birmingham) to discuss these issues.

You can see the slides I used below (and also on my SlideShare account).

Business is one of the areas where we need more specialised research into contract cheating and the ability to share best practice. There is a lot of demand for Business School qualifications, but students can sometimes be motivated more by the value of the qualification than the associated learning.

We need to consider how to address contract cheating in Business Schools and how we can encourage and support academic integrity.

Contract Cheating: An Introduction for the Research Active

The European Network for Academic Integrity now runs a popular summer school programme, with one week of intensive workshops, two per day, aimed at PhD researchers and other staff interested in improving their knowledge of academic integrity and perhaps conducting research in the field.

Along with Ann Rogerson and Zeenath Khan, I delivered a session on contract cheating, focusing on information for researchers, including ideas for future research. This was complemented nicely by Ann and Zeenath’s expertise, who both delivered their own presentations.

You can see the slides I used below (and also on my SlideShare account).

One of the difficult ideas we discussed is that contract cheating is an option for researchers. Doctoral proposals, editing services, statistical analysis and even chapter writing is available to purchase online. Sometimes academics work for contract cheating providers.

I’m sure that no one at the summer school would consider contract cheating, but the options to do so are out there.

Contract Cheating and Unauthorised Homework Assistance through Reddit Communities

The sheer number of different sources that students can use for contract cheating always amazes me. One of my Imperial College London undergraduate students, Rahul Gupta, asked if he could work with me on a study about contract cheating using Reddit. We were able to get internal funding, collected data and Rahul joined me to present the results at the European Conference on Academic Integrity and Plagiarism 2021.

Reddit is an interesting site to look into, as essentially it’s the host of a lot of online communities, primarily text-based, often highly active and often accessed anonymously. It is perhaps unsurprising that we found examples of students asking for homework assistance, both with money exchanged and for free.

You can see the slides we used below (and also on my SlideShare account).

The sheer number of requests many of the subreddits (individual forums) generate is outstanding. We focused on one such subreddit which is generating over 50,000 posts per year. Not all posts are homework, since these posts also includes replies and discussion, but the high volume of posts also has a viral effect, generating more content to be indexed by Google and therefore driving more traffic from students who are looking for help and support.

Rahul and I hope to present this more formally through other academic channels, but we do encourage other educators to explore Reddit and see the range of questions and cheating opportunities that are out there. Rahul highlighted the wide range of Maths solutions available and a growth in activity during the Covid-19 period (echoing findings from a study I completed with Codrin Cotarlan).

The use of an anonymous service like Reddit is not risk free for anyone involved. Rahul highlighted examples of students being scammed and at risk of blackmail, even if they only posted and did not pay anyone, but he also showed that assignments providers were equally at risk, with students using various tricks to get them to complete work for free.

Perhaps most importantly, Rahul talked about being able to identify some of the students and how he had reported them to their universities. He said he had mostly had receptive responses at the news from UK and European universities, but had had less success communicating with universities in the United States. The message to communicate is that contract cheating is not a good option. Other students do care about academic integrity.

My friend and colleague, the late Robert Clarke, spent many years of his life tracking down contract cheating cases and I know that he would be impressed and proud of the work that Rahul and other student academic integrity advocates are doing.

Academic Ghost Writing and Contract Cheating Provision Observed on a Freelancing Website

At the European Conference on Academic Integrity and Plagiarism 2021, I presented a research study I’d been working on with Benjamin Dent, a BEng Computing student at Imperial College London.

We collected and analysed data from the website, relating to contract cheating requests for written student work. This is a site I’ve used for data collection before, but with Ben’s help, we were able to increase the amount of data involved and also focus specifically on contract cheating requests for essays, reports and other forms of writing, as opposed to my own earlier work with this site, where many of the examples I’ve identified have focused on computing assignments, such as programming.

You can see the slides we used below (and also on my SlideShare account).

We do intend to document more of this work in a research paper, but some of the findings that stood out to me included:

  • the single largely discipline we saw represented in the data set was business, with the associated areas of management and marketing also ranking highly. This matches closely the findings from other studies I’ve been involved with on other sites
  • a worrying trend was the requests for work in the medical and health fields. As well as student work, we found requests for ghostwriters to prepare medical research for submission to peer reviewed journals.
  • students are requesting PhD proposals, with the intention of getting course places they don’t deserve, depriving other students of the opportunity (and also potentially getting funding or scholarships that they do not deserve). There are also requests to have thesis chapters written, for doctoral work and at other levels of study, but these are not always public, since once a student finds a good writer, they can keep working with them independently to the observable system.

The site we looked at is just one site through which assignments can be purchased. This one shows a lot of information visibly, but there are many hundreds of similar sites within which all the information is hidden. It is fairly safe to assume that the trends we observed are recreated elsewhere many times over.

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